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In Theaters: THE PREDATOR (2018)

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THE PREDATOR 
(US - 2018)

Directed by Shane Black. Written by Fred Dekker and Shane Black. Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Augusto Aguilera, Jake Busey, Yvonne Strahovski, Brian Prince, Mike Dopud, Lochlyn Munro, Garry Chalk, Duncan Fraser, Francoise Yip. (R, 107 mins)

1987's classic PREDATOR hasn't had a lot of luck with sequels. 1990's PREDATOR 2 has its fans but it's always felt like a script for a post-LETHAL WEAPON/DIE HARD Joel Silver project that had the Predator shoehorned into it, and 2010's PREDATORS (headlined by action icons Adrien Brody and Topher Grace) was instantly and justly forgotten (and if we're counting offshoots, there's 2004's terrible ALIEN VS. PREDATOR and 2007's improved ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM, which isn't a great movie but I'm reasonably certain I'm the only person who didn't hate it). When it was announced that veteran screenwriter (LETHAL WEAPON, THE LAST BOY SCOUT, and THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT) and smartass auteur (KISS KISS, BANG BANG and THE NICE GUYS) Shane Black had a PREDATOR project in the works, hopes were high for what came to be rather unimaginatively titled THE PREDATOR. Principal photography wrapped well over a year ago, with a planned March 2018 release, but 20th Century Fox delayed it due to poor test screenings. Black was ordered to scrap the entire third act, with reshoots taking place in March, followed by another delay with still more reshoots being done in July, just two months before the new release date. The reshoots were extensive enough that a character played by Edward James Olmos ended up being eliminated completely, but even going in without that knowledge, you'll be able to spot the exact moment that THE PREDATOR stops being a Shane Black film and starts being a rushed, compromised franchise product with the requisite bush-league CGI (the CGI in the new finale is really bad and doesn't even look finished, because it probably isn't). At least when his buddy Robert Downey Jr got him his IRON MAN 3 comeback gig, Black was still able to make the film he wanted to make.





It's a shame because for about 2/3 of the way, THE PREDATOR is a blast, and a distinctly "Shane Black" throwback to the kinds of '80s and '90s action movies we don't see much of anymore. Co-written with Black's old buddy Fred Dekker (they wrote 1987's Dekker-directed cult classic THE MONSTER SQUAD), it's pretty much a feature-length trigger warning: it's profane and vulgar, filled with quippy banter, tasteless jokes with sexist and/or racially insensitive punchlines ("What's the difference between a joke and five black guys? Your mother can't take a joke"), politically incorrect insults ("Hey, Twitchy," one guy says to another with Tourette's), an autistic kid dropping F-bombs, gratuitous gore, graphic decapitations and disembowelings, and a callous, wanton disregard for human life. It's got everything that was great about big action movies of the era of the original PREDATOR (itself a troubled shoot that really didn't come together until very late in production), and of course, it's neutered by the reliance on focus groups and an unnecessary concern with setting up a new franchise. One can't really judge Black's original third act until we see it, presumably on the Blu-ray bonus features, but there's no denying that what's here doesn't really work either. But the first 2/3 is ridiculously enjoyable, filled with typically quotable Black dialogue, some inspired callbacks to earlier PREDATOR films ("Lawrence Gordon Middle School," Jake Busey as the son of his dad Gary's doomed PREDATOR 2 character, someone spotting a bunch of motorcycles and yelling "Get to the choppers!"), and some hilarious sight gags, sometimes buried in the background, sometimes front and center, including one involving a severed arm that had the entire audience rolling.


Military sniper Quinn McKenna (LOGAN's Boyd Holbrook) is on a covert mission to take out members of a Mexican drug cartel when the operation is botched by the appearance of spacecraft that crash lands in the jungle. A camouflaged Predator slaughters the rest of his team, but McKenna, realizing he's made contact with an alien life form, manages to get away with its protective helmet and arm gear and mails it to a PO box back home. The box ends up on the doorstep of McKenna's estranged wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski), where their autistic, genius son Rory (ROOM's Jacob Tremblay) figures out how it operates, inadvertently sending a signal revealing its location to another, larger Predator (this one featuring a modified design that looks more like a Rastafarian Rawhead Rex), with two dreadlocked Predator tracking dogs (an interesting addition) in pursuit. Meanwhile, McKenna is being railroaded by his military superiors and a black-ops government outfit run by the snarling Traeger (a gum-and-scenery-chewing Sterling K. Brown of THIS IS US) and dumped on a military prison transport to keep quiet. Traeger's goons grab biologist Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) and take her to a secret installation where the crash-landing Predator is being kept under sedation. Of course, it escapes, and, with Traeger and dueling Predators in pursuit of young Rory, she eventually teams up with McKenna and "The Loonies," a Dirty Half-Dozen group of military malcontents who've taken over the prison transport: Nebraska Williams (MOONLIGHT's Trevante Rhodes), who shot his commanding officer because "he was an asshole;" joke-cracking troublemaker Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key); chatty Jesus freak Nettles (Augusta Aguilera); British card trickster Lynch (Alfie Allen); and Baxley (Thomas Jane), whose Tourette's leads to his blurting things like "F-f-f-fuck me in the face with an a-a-a-a-aardvark!" and "Eat your pussy!" the moment he makes eye contact with Bracket.


With the kind of one-liners that recall Bruce Willis barking "She's so fat, I had to roll her in flour and look for the wet spot" in THE LAST BOY SCOUT and its over-the-top splatter, THE PREDATOR wears its hard-R status with beaming pride, and those looking for something that's as much a PREDATOR sequel as it is a Shane Black joint won't be disappointed...for a while, at least. However, it's hard to imagine anyone being really satisfied with either of the film's endings, whether it's a shoddy-looking greenscreen battle atop a spaceship or an awkward, tension-deflating coda (complete with Holbrook's hair being a completely different color than it was in the rest of the movie) that seems more suited for a post-credits stinger that should've been cut. THE PREDATOR does a good job of juggling its many characters until the final act, when the film loses Black's style and becomes another rote, quick-cut blur of action and explosions that's completely at odds with the late '80s/early '90s aesthetic that dominated the preceding 75 or so minutes. Whether it's sloppy editing or a disgruntled Black reshaping the ending of the film with a gun pointed at his head, the film loses the thread, loses track of some its characters, and starts collapsing in the home stretch. Despite this, THE PREDATOR is 2/3 of a really fun movie with affectionate nods to PREDATOR and PREDATOR 2 (love that Alan Silvestri cue), and the bygone days of 30 years ago that feel akin to something an in-his-prime Joe Dante would've made if he was a misanthropic, sarcastic wiseass. In the end, the best comparison to make with this film is that it's the EXORCIST III of the PREDATOR franchise, a film where studio-mandated, third-act reshoots done by the director under duress are completely at odds with the tone and style of the rest of the movie, yet enough of its creator's voice remains in the first 2/3 that it's still worthwhile. Now that we've seen William Peter Blatty's intended ending of EXORCIST III, it's easy to see why the studio intervened. The end result is not a washout by any means, but time will tell if we ever get to see Black's initial cut of THE PREDATOR. As it is now and as a whole, it's a mild recommendation, but with some caveats.



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